L&D Best Practices: Strategies for Success (November 2022)

Training magazine taps 2022 Training APEX Awards winners and Training Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at Collaborative Solutions’ Leadership Academy.


Collaborative Solutions’ (CS) Learning & Development team (L&D) takes pride in challenging the status quo when it comes to traditional learning design practices, and its Leadership Academy is proof of that. Established in 2017, the program serves to build up new and experienced leaders by allowing them to unplug from their daily grind and engage in weeks of careful self-reflection that hone their perspective of what impactful leadership looks like and challenge them to reshape themselves into the most effective leaders they can be.

Where traditional training often assumes the “one-and-done” approach, Collaborative Solutions’ Leadership Academy promotes growth over time, allowing leaders to steep in the content for multiple days prior to engaging in “application days.” These are prescribed periods of time when leaders experiment with learned concepts in a variety of real-life situations until the desired outcome is achieved, and new patterns, or ways of thinking, are hardwired into their brain.

But our training doesn’t stop there. When the prescribed period is over, we bring leaders back into the (virtual) classroom so they can reengage with the L&D team and their cohort to discuss what concepts they experimented with, what worked and what didn’t work, and what they plan to do differently in the future to make sure they achieve their desired outcomes. When this informal accountability check is complete, we send them off to do it all over again.

This extra time is exactly what leaders need to not only absorb concepts intellectually but, most importantly, to develop the awareness needed to recognize when the concepts can be applied to social and professional interactions with others. As paradoxical as this may seem, the key to our success—and Csuite approval—was thinking small. Instead of asking leaders to reserve an entire week for training, we broke that time down into smaller, incremental touch points that take place over time, and as a result, are potent interactions marked by experimentation experiences and “aha moments” we all learn from.

Program Details

The success of Collaborative Solutions’ Leadership Academy program starts with empowering employees to own their own learning process. We embrace an open forum training environment that gives all full-time employees the ability to explore the various training opportunities available to them based on their career goals and areas of interest. In order to attend the Leadership Academy, leaders have to volunteer to participate. This signals the intrinsic motivation needed to commit to long-term change, something our L&D team believes is necessary for the experience to be most effective.

The authors of “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” punctuated that “while practicing [a new skill] is vital to learning and memory, studies have shown that practice is far more effective when it’s broken into separate periods of training that are spaced out.” Our L&D team understood this and designed a leadership program that challenged learners to not just understand the material but to attempt to apply and refine it on the job via experimentation and reflection over the span of several weeks.

Given the depth of information covered and the extended duration of the program, it made sense to us to structure the experience into two separate, but related, parts:

Part I: The “theories” segment is 3.5 days and is designed to sharpen our leaders’ understanding of key concepts such as building trust with others, managing healthy conflict, and coaching and mentoring their teams to success. This is the only in-person portion of the training and takes place in serene, retreat-like environments that promote disconnection from work and complete focus on the training material. (Note: In-person trainings were converted to virtual trainings during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Part II: The “application” period is where the rubber hits the road. This segment takes place in two sequential parts and is intended to give leaders time to recognize opportunities for practical application of concepts in real-life situations and capitalize on them through experimentation and trial and error.

Prior to attending the Academy, leaders must complete approximately 10 hours of on-demand training to prime them for the content deep dive we take them through during the theories segment. This pre-work allows the L&D team to transform the in-person experience from what would have been structured lecture time into a hands-on workshop where leaders “play” with the content via group discussions and projects, teach-backs, self-reflection exercises, role-plays, etc. We also incorporate videos, relevant news articles, quizzes, and presentations by organizational influencers such as our VP of Talent and our VP of DEI to give leaders with differentiated learning styles an array of modalities from which to absorb information.

Upon completion of the in-person experience, leaders are asked to reflect on the concepts that stood out to them, identify where they believe their areas of weakness lie based on feedback from those who work closest to them, and then commit to two to three SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound) goals that will act as their focal points during their designated application periods.

The first application period lasts for a week and puts leaders back into their usual work routines with the sole purpose of taking appropriate steps toward accomplishing their SMART goals. Leaders reconvene as a group at the end of the five-day period to debrief on their experiences, collect feedback, and brainstorm ideas on how to further hone their strategies.

The second and final application period is launched at the end of the debrief and gives leaders one month of uninterrupted, on-the-job training to continue working toward their SMART goals, reflecting on what works best for them and in what situations, then repeating those approaches until they become default behavior patterns.

At the end of this application period, learners reconvene one last time with L&D and program stakeholders to discuss their progress and solicit support and constructive feedback from the group so they can continue refining and perfecting their approaches until they’ve achieved their desired outcomes.


More than 250 leaders have graduated from the Leadership Academy since its inception in 2017. The program has earned a year-over-year net promoter score (NPS) of 84 percent. Several metrics collected from our global workforce and calculated by Collaborative Solutions’ People Development team underscore the impact the program is having on our managers’ growth and development. These include:

  • 47 percent of the company’s people managers have been promoted in 2022 so far, up 14 percent since 2017.
  • 5 percent of CS’s Engagement managers and Portfolio directors have been promoted in 2022 so far, up 4 percent since 2017.
  • A 2021 CultureAmp survey revealed 93 percent of employees responded favorably to our overall manager effectiveness-related questions.
  • 88 percent of employees believe Collaborative Solutions’ leaders demonstrate that people are important to the company’s success. This is 16 percentage points higher than the consulting industry’s national average.


Although learners have limited time, L&D professionals can intelligently redesign training experiences, so learners have varied opportunities to process the content while consuming the same amount of time as the typical one-and-done approach (e.g., transforming the traditional hour-long training into three 20-minute sessions that happen over one to two weeks).

The key to successful organizational transformation lies in L&D professionals being bold enough to break from the norm and attempt to do something they’ve never done before. This mindset strikes at the heart of Collaborative Solutions’ Leadership Academy, and it’s exactly why our program continues to elevate our leaders beyond what they may have imagined was possible.

Stacy N. Williams
Stacy N. Williams is the director of Learning & Development at Collaborative Solutions, LLC, a leading global finance and HR transformation consultancy that leverages world-class cloud solutions to help deliver successful client outcomes for Fortune 500 companies, large and medium-sized organizations across industries. Williams also has a seat on the company’s Global Culture Advisory Board.